Somali pirates go on trial in S Korea

2011-05-23 12:01

Seoul - Four Somali pirates captured in a dramatic commando raid on a hijacked ship went on trial in South Korea Monday on charges punishable by life imprisonment.

A fifth pirate who has admitted the charges against the group - including maritime robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder - will have his case heard separately.

The trial in the southern port city of Busan marks the first attempt by South Korea, a major seagoing nation, to punish foreign pirates. But language problems were slowing proceedings at the tightly-guarded courtroom.

South Korean navy SEALs raided the South Korean-operated chemical freighter Samho Jewelry on January 21, six days after it was hijacked in the Arabian Sea, killing eight pirates and seizing five.

All 21 crew were rescued but Captain Seok Hae-Kyun, 58, was shot several times and remains in stable condition in hospital after multiple operations. His written testimony will be read to the court on Wednesday.

Seok was hailed as a hero for his attempts to slow down his ship after it was hijacked, as were the commandos.

Investigators say some of the pirates had last year taken part in the hijacking of a supertanker operated by the same firm as the Samho Jewelry.

The 300 000-ton Samho Dream and its 24 crew were released after a reported $9m ransom payment was made.

A 12-strong jury - a relative novelty in the country - will hear the case alongside the judges. It will suggest a verdict and sentence but the judges are not bound by the recommendations.

Human rights

A lengthy translation process involving Korean, English and Somali was delaying proceedings, Yonhap news agency reported, and raising doubt as to whether a verdict on the four can be delivered Friday as scheduled.

The pirates have been given prominent defence lawyers including a college law professor, a former judge and a prominent human rights advocate.

Despite the scale of piracy off lawless Somalia, only a few perpetrators have been brought to justice so far.

In March a US court sentenced five Somali pirates to life in prison plus 80 years for their attack on a US naval vessel.

A month later a Somali was sentenced to 25 years in Washington for his role in holding a merchant ship and its crew hostage for 71 days.

On Friday another Somali pleaded guilty in Norfolk, Virginia, to piracy and hostage-taking for a yacht hijacking that left four Americans dead. The deal with prosecutors saw him avoid a possible death sentence.

Earlier this month a Spanish court sentenced two Somalis to jail terms totalling 439 years each for their role in the hijacking of a fishing trawler and its crew in 2009.

In February a Malaysian court charged seven suspected Somali pirates with firing at Malaysian forces during a raid to free a hijacked tanker, under laws that carry the death penalty.

Read more on:    south korea  |  somali pirates
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